About a year and a half ago, I moved across the country from the tall buildings and hustle and bustle of Manhattan to the sandy beaches and chill vibe of San Diego. There was definitely an adjustment period, but I have to say it wasn’t a particularly hard one. San Diego is known for its perfect weather, gorgeous coastline and excellent Mexican food. In the next three blog posts I’m going to share with you my best tips on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in “America’s Finest City.” This is in no means a fully comprehensive guide, but just some of my favorite recommendations!
ALL ABOUT ANIMALS
- San Diego Zoo – The San Diego Zoo is most well-known for its pandas, who unfortunately just returned to China this past Spring. But there is SO much more to see at this zoo, which houses 3,500 animals of 600+ species. The San Diego Zoo was also a pioneer in open-air exhibits and continues to develop new and exciting ways to showcase and educate about diverse animal species around the globe. Similar to other zoos, proceeds from admission tickets also support conservation efforts on the ground.
- San Diego Zoo Safari Park – I mentioned the San Diego Zoo’s pioneering approach to open-air exhibits, but the Safari Park takes it to the next level. Located North of the city, visiting this 100-acre park will feel like you took an exotic trip to the African savanna without hopping on a plane.
- Seaworld – Though Seaworld has been under a lot of scrutiny in recent years, it is still one of the major attractions in San Diego. The orca show is focused on how learnings from captive animals have helped scientists’ understanding of these creatures, allowing us to better support them in the wild. Plus, there are a ton of other aquatic animals to see, as well as some rides.
- Visiting the La Jolla Seals & Sea Lions – My favorite time to visit the resident population of seals and sea lions in la Jolla is during “pupping season” in the spring. It’s so cute to see those little babies sunbathing on the rocks! La Jolla Mom has a really fantastic guide on the best places to visit these amazing animals.
- Whale watching cruises – San Diego is a great spot for whale watching! With chances to see migratory and resident pods of Gray whales and Blue whales, as well as Humpbacks, Pilot Whales, Fin Whales and even Killer Whales. Whale watching cruises depart year-round from downtown San Diego. One of the best operators is Hornblower Cruises.
- USS Midway – This aircraft carrier museum is massive and a must-see for any Top Gun fan!
- Old Town – Though a bit touristy, Old Town is still worth a visit. Dating to 1769, Old Town San Diego was California’s first settlement and still retains a lot of the historic charm with old buildings featuring Spanish-style architecture. Come here to shop for souvenirs, enjoy some hearty Mexican food, and experience living history programs.
- Gaslamp Quarter – The Gaslamp Quarter is the heart of downtown San Diego. The Victorian architecture speaks to the history of the area, but today the real attraction is the nightlife – with plentiful bars, clubs and restaurants around, as well as many hotels.
- Cabrillo National Monument – This monument explores the discovery of San Diego by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Visitors can learn all about Cabrillo’s life, as well as the 16th century exploration industry. This is also a great spot to whale watch from land.
- Hotel Del Coronado – While I’ll mention this hotel again in my “Where to Stay” guide, the history of this property is so rich that it’s worth mentioning here as well. Built in 1888, this National Historic Landmark is the second largest wooden structure in the United States. Made famous in the film, Some Like it Hot, the hotel is an icon in San Diego. Even if you don’t stay at “The Del” (as it’s referred to locally), I’d recommend coming for a cocktail by the sea, or for its famed Sunday brunch.
THE ARTS + SPORTS
- Balboa Park – This beautiful park is not only home to the San Diego Zoo, but many different museums and gardens as well. My personal favorite is the Japanese Friendship Garden.
- La Jolla Playhouse – One of the things I thought I’d miss most about NYC was the world-class theatre right at my doorstep. However, the Playhouse is a breeding ground for Broadway and features about a half a dozen shows a year (a mix of plays and musicals) with enormous talent. Tip: Don’t miss the chocolate chip cookies at the concession stand!
- Padres Game – No explanation needed here, but I do love the fact that the stadium is right in the heart of the city.
- Del Mar Racetrack – Del Mar, in North County, is horse country and going to the race track is a San Diego tradition. The racing season in Del Mar runs from mid-July through Labor Day and then again from early November to early December.
- Hike Torrey Pines – This State Reserve is famous for its rugged coastline and Pacific views. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from and you can even walk down to the beach.
- Go Surfing – Surfing is California’s favorite pastime and you will find no shortage of enthusiasts in San Diego. There are plenty of surf shops offering classes and lessons but if you’d rather just spectate, head to any ocean pier and you can watch locals take on the waves.
- Mission Bay Boating – Mission Bay is a man-made saltwater lagoon just south of Pacific Beach. The area is massive and with calm waters, its the perfect playground for water sport rentals – from paddleboarding, to jetskis, pontoons and speedboats – you can find almost everything here!
- Beaches – This is an obvious one, but the top beaches central to San Diego are: Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla Shores and Coronado.
- Biking – While everyone is scootering around these days, I’m still partial to my old fashioned beach cruiser. The boardwalks by the beach are perfect for biking!